Authors: Amanda Cabot
Tags: #FIC042040, #FIC027020
Â© 2016 by Amanda Cabot
Published by Revell
a division of Baker Publishing Group
P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
Ebook edition created 2016
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any meansâfor example, electronic, photocopy, recordingâwithout the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
For April Kihlstrom
award-winning author, kindred spirit,
and the best of speaking and signing partners.
I miss the April and Amanda gigs.
. Gillian Hodge forced her fingers to stop gripping the steering wheel as if it were a lifeline. This wasn't her Carnegie Hall debut or the finals of the Brooks competition when so much was riding on the outcome. This was a vacation, for Pete's sake. A week with her best friend and the woman who'd been a surrogate grandmother. She should be filled with anticipation, counting the minutes until she arrived, not wound as tightly as a metronome.
Gillian took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. In, out. In, out. The technique had never failed when she'd used it before performances, and it did not fail now. She could feel her neck and shoulder muscles relaxing as she repeated the slow, even breathing. The tension began to drain, and for the first time since she'd left the freeway, Gillian looked at her surroundings rather than concentrating on the highway.
Kate was right. The Texas Hill Country was particularly beautiful in the spring. It had been lovely when she'd been here for Kate's wedding last September, but the fresh green of spring grasses and leaves and the patches of vividly colored wildflowers
turned what had been simply lovely into something spectacular. No wonder Kate kept raving about her new home.
Though it was still difficult to believe that Kate, a dyed-in-the-wool city girl like Gillian, had given up a major promotion and traded a glamorous life as an advertising executive to run a small resort in the middle of Texas, that was exactly what had happened. Of course, one particular man had a lot to do with Kate's decision. She had come to Texas almost kicking and screaming and had discovered true love.
Gillian's smile faded. Despite her father's advice that marriage was what Gillian needed, she wasn't looking for love at Rainbow's End, just a change of scenery and a chance to rest. Months of physical therapy had not accomplished its goal. Her dreams had been crushedâliterallyâleaving her no choice but to build a new life. At this point, Gillian had no idea of what the future would bring other than that concert stages would not be part of it. After six months of dwelling on what she could no longer do, it was time to discover what other talents she had. But before she did that, she wanted time with the people who'd known her before her name ever graced a marquee.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Focus on the
progress you're making, not what you can't do.
The scars will fade, and so will the memories
. Brushing aside the memories that had so far refused to fade, Gillian scanned the roadway, smiling when she saw what appeared to be an armor-plated animal lumbering along the shoulder. Who wouldn't smile at an armadillo? They looked like something out of prehistoric times. Though she thought they were supposed to be nocturnal, what did she know? Other than her weekend trip for Kate's wedding, the only parts of Texas Gillian had seen were airports, hotels, and concert halls. The only armadillos she'd seen were the stuffed varieties in airport gift shops.
The chuckle that curved her lips upward died as she glanced in the rearview mirror. It couldn't be. Not now. Not here. Gripping the steering wheel so tightly her knuckles whitened, Gillian
stared at the approaching vehicle. The bright red motorcycle, the black-clad rider, the black and red helmet were indelibly etched in her memory along with the damage they had wrought.
She bit her lip, trying to tamp down the fear. It couldn't be the same one.
motorcycle was almost two thousand miles away. There must be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men in black leather riding red motorcycles. There was no reason to believe this was the one who had changed her life.
He was going faster now, that horrible red machine eating up the distance between them. Maybe it was the same motorcycle after all.
one had been going too fast. Though the police had cited the rider for excessive speed, witnesses had said there was no sign of reckless driving, claiming the crash was an accident. An accident that would haunt Gillian for the rest of her life.
She slowed the car, wanting the bike to pass her. The sooner it was out of her sight, the better. Dimly, she was aware of clouds blocking the sun. In mere seconds, the dayâlike her moodâhad gone from bright and sunny to ominously dark. It wasn't an omen, a portent, or a warning. It was simply a change of weather. And yet Gillian could not tamp back the sense of foreboding. She flinched as a crack of thunder split the sky and the deluge began. Within seconds, the pavement had gone from dry to wet. And still the motorcycle drew closer.
He was in the left lane now, getting ready to pass. Gillian's eyes widened and her heart began to pound. No! Not again! No!
He probably shouldn't have detoured. TJ Benjamin frowned as he headed north. Deb would never have done it. She made plans, developed itineraries, and followed them. Deb never took a detour, and none of her plans involved a motorcycle or sleeping under the stars. As much as she loved traveling, she also loved her creature comforts. That's why she'd insisted on renting a class A
motor home equipped with air conditioning and a microwave. There was no roughing it for Deb. But Deb wasn't here, and he had no reason not to detour.
TJ gave the throttle another twist. Speed might not be the cure for everything, but it did help clear away melancholy. So did the countryside. He was deep in the heart of his home state on a beautiful early April day. If only he let himself, he could find reasons to smile.
As if on cue, a hawk soared above him, looking for an afternoon snack and making TJ grin as his stomach rumbled. He could use a snack himself, something warm instead of the energy bars that had become a staple of his diet. He'd stop in the next town and find a greasy spoon. Meanwhile, he was going to enjoy the detour.
He leaned back and started to relax. Though he'd traveled many of the state's highways, TJ had never explored this part of the Hill Country. His plan had been to continue on US 90 heading west. If he'd followed that plan, he would have reached Big Bend today. Instead, when he'd seen the sign pointing toward Dupree, the town that claimed to be the Heart of the Hills, something had urged him to turn, so here he was heading north. The old TJ wouldn't have done that. But, like Deb, the old TJ was gone.
So what if he was a day or two late getting to Big Bend? The park wasn't going anywhere. It wasn't like he had anyone waiting for him or had anything planned after that. Big Bend was the last item on the bucket list. Once he'd seen it, he wouldÂ .Â .Â .
TJ frowned. The problem was that he didn't know how to finish the sentence. His frown turned into a wry smile as he felt a moment of sympathy for his former students with their complaints about open-ended questions. Multiple choice quizzes were definitely easier.
The hawk, more single-minded than TJ, swooped down and landed on the ground, its head diving into a hole. It appeared the hawk had found its prey.
Focusing on the highway in front of him, TJ noticed a light blue sedan in the distance. It had been little more than a speck when he'd seen it from the top of the last hill, but it was much larger now. Judging from the way he was catching it, it must be going under the speed limit. Probably tourists looking at the Hill Country's fabled spring wildflowers. If that's what they wanted, they'd come to the right place. Bluebonnets carpeted the meadows, their color providing a vivid contrast to the green hills.
TJ had seen his share of bluebonnets, but these were extra special. Though his stomach was protesting his decision, he pulled off the road and reached into his saddlebags for the digital SLR that had cost more than a month's pay. As he rotated the polarizing filter to deepen the hue of the flowers, TJ scowled at the realization that a dark cloud was approaching. He probably shouldn't have stopped, but the bluebonnets were as enticing as the road itself had been.
While his head told him to skip the pictures, his heart rejoiced at the sight of the deep blue flowers with the white and yellow tips, and he carefully composed the shots. It might be foolish. It wasn't as if he was going to try to sell the photos. That had been Deb's dream, not his, and yet he couldn't deny the pleasure of composing a picture that lifted his spirits and made him happy, if only for a moment.
With the camera once more safely stowed, he climbed on the bike and headed north, determined to reach Dupree before the rain began. The last sign had said it was only ten miles farther. With a little luck he could get there and find shelter from the storm that seemed to be gaining on him. The thought had no sooner lodged itself in his brain than the clouds opened and the deluge began.
As raindrops dotted his windshield and slid down his helmet, TJ shook his head. He should have known this would happen. It was just another in the string of bad things that had plagued his life for the past eighteen months.
The blue sedan was only a short distance in front of him now,
rooster tails rising from its rear tires. TJ hated rooster tails. They weren't a problem in an RV or even in a car, but they did nasty things to a motorcycle, throwing dirty water on the windshield and reducing the already lowered visibility. There was only one solution.
A quick twist of the throttle and he'd accelerated enough to pull into the left lane. It would take no more than a couple seconds to pass the car. Only one person inside, he noticed as he approached the sedan. A woman. And then TJ felt his bike begin to hydroplane.
Braking did no good. The bike had a mind of its own, and right now that mind was making it slide.
me from hitting the car
No! No! No! Gillian stared in horror as the motorcycle crashed into the guardrail, catapulting the rider into the air. With memories of another motorcycle on another day flashing before her, she stomped the brakes. She hated motorcycles! They were nothing but trouble. Big trouble.